PHILADELPHIA -- It has been 31 years since the Philadelphia Eagles opened training camp with a head coach who formerly played for the team.
Doug Pederson, the Eagles' new head coach, spent 12 years in the NFL, including one season with Philadelphia. He is the first former Eagles player to coach the team since Marion Campbell, who played for the Eagles in the 1950s and coached them in the 1980s. Campbell died last week at age 87.
The Eagles have had six head coaches since Campbell's departure in 1985: Buddy Ryan, Rich Kotite, Ray Rhodes, Andy Reid, Chip Kelly and Pederson. Until Pederson, Rhodes was the only one with experience as an NFL player. Rhodes spent six seasons with the New York Giants and one with the San Francisco 49ers.
Eight of the 21 coaches on Pederson's staff have been on an NFL roster. They include Frank Reich (offensive coordinator), Duce Staley (running backs), Tim Hauck (safeties), Greg Lewis (wide receivers), Justin Peelle (tight ends), Eugene Chung (offensive line assistant) and Phillip Daniels (defensive line assistant). Defensive line coach Chris Wilson was drafted by the Chicago Bears, but he never played in a game.
Five coaches, including Pederson, spent at least part of their careers with the Eagles, who open training camp Monday.
"I don't think it was a prerequisite," Pederson said of coaches being former NFL players. "I think it helps to have played at this level, being out there when the bullets are flying for real and putting the pads on and being in that locker room. They understand the dynamic of the dressing room, of the locker room.
"They understand what it means to be a teammate, a leader on the football team. I think someone like Duce that has played the running back position at a high level can share his experiences with the young running backs."
Comfort in the locker room is a bigger issue for the Eagles than it might first appear. One of Jeff Lurie's reasons for firing Kelly was the owner's sense that the coach didn't relate well to players. Lurie said he was looking for "emotional intelligence" in his next head coach.
That is Pederson, who makes a point of being visible in the locker room in a way that Kelly never was.
"I try almost every day, when the players are in this building, to walk down to that locker room," Pederson said. "Whether it be after practice, before practice -- just walk through there. I implore my coaches to go through the dressing room.
"I want the coaches to feel free to go in there. Yes, that's [the players'] domain, but at the same time, the coaches need to be seen in there. That's the only way you can begin to build relationships."
Those relationships have changed over time. Pederson played for Don Shula late in the legendary coach's career.
"I think back when I played, the head coach was kind of more like up here," Pederson said, raising his hand above his head. "I don't want to be up here. I want to be right down here with the guys. And that's why I love what I do with these players every single day.
"I'm going to dive in there with the players because I know exactly how they're thinking. And I know when it's time to give the players a break. That's the beauty, I think, in having been a player. You know when enough's enough, and you go 'Hey, I've got to pull back here.' So I feel it's important to have those relationships with the players."